Evaluating your site with a text-based web browser can be an eye-opener, explains the Building webmaster

Do use Lynx

Whenever I evaluate a website, a tool I always use is a text-based web browser called Lynx, which can be downloaded here.

Lynx is used in the world of search engine optimisation as an evaluation tool, as it's considered a way to see your site through the eyes of a search engine spider. Viewing your site through Lynx can be a real eye-opener and may give you an idea of where you can improve it to help the little search engine spider along.

Lynx can be quite illuminating on how your site is coming across from a bare-bones point of view. Looking at Building's website, for example, shows that our extensive navigation is one of the first things that Google sees. We combated this by making the first link one that skips the navigation. It's a cheeky little trick that's done us no harm so far.

Have a look at how our sustainability blog Zerochampion looks through the eyes of Lynx. And if you're considering a pure Flash website (see my last column), try checking out architecture and interiors firm Carey Jones' site using Clickability's Lynx Viewer.

Don’t hide text in images

So far a message I’ve been trying to purvey is that you need to expose your content in the simplest forms possible. Text is the biggest weapon in your arsenal for an assault on Google. Rendering text in images will hide that text from a search engine. This is something to consider if you’ve made pretty buttons to send users through your site.

It’s no good if an image reads “Click here to see the best content in the world” but is labelled and therefore crawled as “button1.gif”. It’s something I see time and time again; its detriment will be demonstrated if you review the page using Lynx as outlined above.

Search engine optimisation is not the only benefit of taking text out of images and putting them into plain text. Screen readers for the blind also cannot read text in images. Accessibility is increasingly something you need to consider to get the widest audience share possible. It’s also plausible that you’re looked on more favourably by search engines the more accessible you are.

If you absolutely must include text in images make sure you put it in your image “alt” tags. This will be picked up by screen readers and give some exposure to search engine spiders.

A good web designer will be able to use CSS to replicate a lot of effects using plain text with background images. Plainly rendered text is best practice, hands down.